LOS ANGELES — About 15 minutes after his club’s best win of the year, Bruce Bochy crinkled his face as a local reporter asked a long and odd question. The man wanted to know if Bochy felt sorry for the Dodgers, who are without their closer, Kenley Jansen.
“Excuse me?” Bochy said, a bewildered look on his face. “With the injuries we’ve had?”
The Giants would not feel sorry for the Dodgers under just about any circumstance. That’s not how this rivalry works. They especially will not feel sorry for a team that has lost its closer, not when Bochy's original choice has been limited for two seasons and his backup, as the manager calmly pointed out, put his fist through a door.
This is cruel game, and you take advantage when you can. The Giants did Monday, stunning a team that already was reeling because of bullpen issues. Nick Hundley’s two-run single flipped the score in the ninth and the Giants held on for a 5-2 win, the final out coming from a man who was their fourth choice to be closer this year.
The win, which got the Giants within four games of the Dodgers and five of the first-place Diamondbacks, came after eight spectacular innings from Clayton Kershaw. Madison Bumgarner kept pace for six, and the Giants stayed within striking distance. They exploded in the ninth, a rarity. They had been 2-51 when trailing after eight innings.
“We’ve got to win games like this to get to where we want to be,” Bumgarner said.
That destination is still a long shot, but these things can change in a hurry, and the Giants all of a sudden find themselves chasing a team that has a familiar problem. The Dodgers simply can’t close opponents out with Jansen sidelined by a heart issue, and it may cost them a postseason spot. Two years ago, Kershaw likely would have closed this one out himself. But that’s not baseball in 2018. In a matchup of left-handed aces, Bumgarner was pulled after 97 pitches. Kershaw struck out two in the eighth, but he was done after 110 pitches. It was the logical choice given his injury problems in recent years, but it still left the home crowd salty. When the Giants loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth, Dodgers fans started to boil. When Hundley roped a single into right-center, the boos started. They got louder and louder until Dave Roberts finally pulled the plug on Scott Alexander, the Giants having turned a one-run deficit into a three-run lead.
The Giants did not feel sorry for anyone on the field. As the Dodgers tried to make sense of what had happened, Hundley returned to the dugout and spent 30 seconds exchanging hard back slaps, high-fives and hugs.
“I’m just pumped for Hundo, man,” rookie Steven Duggar said. “That was sick.”
Hundley has been around long enough to see the strategy of this sport change. The complete game is a lost art. The Giants don’t have one, and the Dodgers don’t either. So in the ninth, with Kershaw on the bench, Hundley kept a close eye on the visiting bullpen. Alexander, a lefty with a good sinker, never had any backup. He was left out there to try and get through the ninth, so Hundley knew he would get his shot.
“I got a good pitch to hit early and I found a spot where nobody was playing,” he said, practically shrugging. “With Jansen down, they’ve used a lot of different guys. When (Alexander) came in the game I knew I would hit. It’s just about making sure you’re prepared.”
There might not be a backup catcher in the game more prepared for Hundley, who still goes through his business every day as if he is a starter. Sometimes that leads to big days in place of Buster Posey. Sometimes it leads to late-game heroics.
Hundley’s latest big hit got the Giants back to 60-60. The computers say they have a less than five percent chance of making the playoffs. The standings say there are plenty of teams still ahead of them, and this was just one game. But it was a hell of a way to start the most important road trip of the year.
The Giants brought Madison Bumgarner into Dodger Stadium to face Clayton Kershaw. In the end, they walked away with a big win.
“The best in the world are playing,” Hundley said. “It’s fun to come out on top.”